Think beyond the Pallof press and side plank. You want a strong, jacked core? Build it like this.
You’ve seen them before: Planks and anti-rotation or Pallof presses. They’re isometric exercises that require your abs and obliques to work by preventing your torso from side bending or twisting. They’re fine exercises, especially if you’re a beginner in your first weeks of training, or even if you’re an advanced lifter who simply enjoys them.
Problem is, they’re overrated, and as a result, overused. The good news? You won’t need to do them if you’re already doing the upper-body exercises highlighted below.
If you find planks and anti-rotation presses just as exciting as watching grass grow, you can swap them out for other things. The exercises listed here are more interesting and efficent options, and just as effective at creating an anti-spinal movement challenge on your abs and obliques.
When it comes to program design and exercise selection, I follow the principle of minimizing redundancy and maximizing efficiency. These exercises minimize redundancy because they’ll give you the same core training benefits as side planks and anti-rotation presses, plus help you maximize your training efficiency by challenging your upper-body pushing musculature.
These variations create a significant anti-rotation challenge on your torso. So if you’ve done them in your workout already, the Pallof press is just, well, redundant.
Can’t do a one-arm push-up yet? Try this. It’s a little easier to master than the one-arm push-up.
- Press up with one hand on top of the platform, kettlebell, or medicine ball.
- At the top of the push-up, lock off by fully straightening the elbow of the arm resting on the platform or ball.
- Place the other arm at your chest and pause for one or two seconds at the top of each rep, then slowly lower yourself.
Do half the reps with your right arm elevated and the other half with your left arm elevated. Don’t allow your shoulders or hips to rotate at any time; keep your torso parallel to the ground throughout.
This is one of the most underrated exercises. You likely don’t see it used in your gym or promoted online nearly as much as Pallof presses.
The one-arm cable press places just as much, if not more, of an anti-rotation demand on your hips and torso musculature. For one thing, you can use heavier loads due to the split-stance position. And it gets more done than the Pallof press because it also involves the upper-body pushing musculature, plus the calves and hamstrings of the back leg, which prevent you from being pulled backward. It’s also not as boring to perform as the Pallof press.
- With the cable handle in your left hand and your elbow at roughly a 45-degree angle from your body, split your stance by putting your left leg behind your right. Keep your front foot flat and your back heel off the ground.
- Press the cable straight out in front of you. Slowly reverse the motion and bring the handle back toward you in a row-like motion while extending the opposite arm.
- Don’t allow your shoulders or hips to rotate more than a few degrees. Lean slightly forward to move heavier loads.
- To prevent the cable attachment from digging into your arm, use an extender strap (which can be purchased at a store that sells rock-climbing gear) between the handle and the cable attachment.
You can also do this exercise with your lead leg on the same side as you pressing arm.
This increases the demand on your torso muscles since the cable is trying to turn you in the opposite direction of your foot. Therefore, it can’t help you as much as when the cable is pulling your towards you back leg.
Since it’s a variation of the one-arm cable press, it offers the same benefits, but also adds an element of reciprocal movement for your opposite arm. You’ve got to pull the bar as your pressing arm pushes it. The same general set-up and coaching tips from the one-arm cable press also apply here.
As with the one-arm cable press, you can also do this exercise with your lead leg on the same side as your pressing arm, further increasing the demand on your torso. However, the tradeoff in doing so is that you can’t use as much weight.
If you don’t have cable bar, you can use this variation, which involves a reciprocal push-pull motion that also lights up your torso muscles to resist rotation.
Once again, you can do this with your lead leg on the same side as your pressing arm, which will further challenge your core to maintain your torso position.
The one-arm push-up is an advanced exercise, partly due to its high demand on the torso. However, there are ways you can gradually progress to doing your first one.
And if you’re already a pro, there are ways to make it even more challenging. My guide on one-arm push-ups will tell you everything you need to know.
These exercises can effectively replace side-planks because they also require you to resist lateral torso flexion. To do them you must maintain your torso position against the off-set load, while doing the vertical/diagonal pressing action.
Simply by doing single-arm dumbbell shoulder presses, you’ve now turned a basic shoulder press into a great lateral core training exercise as well. But you’ve got to go heavy enough on these (sets of 10 or fewer reps) to create enough load where you feel the additional core training challenge in your abs and obliques.
Due to the cable angle (about 20-30 degrees from your torso), this single-arm shoulder press variation creates a more challenging demand on your abs and obliques with a lighter load than using a dumbbell. Why? The greater the angle of the cable to your body, the less mechanical advantage your torso muscles have to resist the force of the cable from pulling you towards its origin.
You’ve probably heard this called a landmine press. That’s fine, but the landmine is really the name of a device that’s specifically designed to do angled barbell exercises.
Notice the band. In The Ultimate Guide to Landmine Presses, I talked about how my top way to use them is with the addition of band resistance.
Why use a band? As you press the barbell (without a band) the load actually gets lighter. Since you’re getting stronger as you extend your arm because you’re creating a shorter lever arm. So it makes sense to add a band for accommodating resistance because the band creates a continually greater resistance challenge as you gain a mechanical advantage. If using a band, you’d anchor it underneath the same side leg as your pressing arm.
The upright torso version of this exercise is more like an incline pressing action, whereas this leaning torso version is more like an overhead press.
Not only does changing the torso position change the direction you’re pushing in, it also changes the torso training stimulus. In the upright torso version, your abs and obliques are resisting both torso rotation and lateral flexion, whereas in this leaning torso version, it’s mainly just lateral torso flexion you’re preventing.
Regardless of which torso angle you use, make sure you don’t allow your wrists to bend backward at any time; keep your wrists straight throughout.
No landmine device? You can also put a barbell in a corner to do angled barbell exercises like this.
Give it a shot!